IF YOU spent a glorious two weeks in sunny Spain, played endless rounds of golf in Portugal or sunk a few glasses of red wine in Italy while on holiday last year, you might well be thinking about buying a second home abroad now the weather is cold and grey.

But are you aware of the financial liabilities of doing so? Bills have to be paid, as do local taxes, income tax and - if you are on a development - community charges to cover the upkeep of communal swimming pools, gardens, etc.

Tony and Christine Collings bought a plot of land near Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca, Spain, last February for a three-bedroom chalet to be built. "I wasn't aware of how you bought a property in Spain" says Tony, "but Ultra Villas, which I bought the property through, explained exactly how it all works and they have been extremely helpful throughout. I also bought myself a book called You and the Law, which I read thoroughly so I understand how their system works".

Tony, who is casino manager for the Palm Beach Club in London, paid half in cash, half with a Spanish mortgage to put his mind at rest that everything was above board. Like our banks, Spanish banks check out the title of property and land before they lend.

It is quite easy to obtain an overseas mortgage in Spain. This is very cheap at the moment, 4.25 per cent for the first year, rising to 5.85 per cent after that.

It cost the Collings pounds 90 to have the water meter installed and the same to connect the electricity. "I transfer money each month into a bank account there to cover the mortgage and anything else," says Tony. "The water bill is taken straight out of your account - if you do not have the funds, they cut you off. I also pay my Spanish solicitor an annual retainer of pounds 90 and he deals with all bills or any help I might need."

In all, you pay around 11 per cent on top of the purchase price when you buy in Spain. This covers transfer tax, registration fee, solicitor's fee and notary's fee. The local tax on a pounds 50,000 property is around pounds 125 a year and a wealth tax, payable whether you make an income out of your property or not, is a little less.

In Greece, you will pay around 11 to 12 per cent purchase costs; in Portugal costs are a bit lower - around 8 to 9 per cent and in France, you are looking at around 11 per cent. "One thing you must be aware of when buying in France in their inheritance tax," says Trevor Bennett, of Bennetts solicitors, which deals with the purchase of properties in all those countries. "Before you buy the property, you must seek legal advice on this."

In Italy you also pay around 10 to 11 percent purchase costs. Rates are low - between pounds 150 to pounds 400 a year. A rubbish tax is also due which ranges between pounds 50 and pounds 200.

"Everything is perfectly straightforward, as long as you do not do it yourself," says Linda Travella, of Casa Travella, who sells property in northern Italy. "A new home might well have a mortgage on it, which although the notary or lawyer will pick up and have it cancelled, it is possible to be landed with mortgage payments you know nothing about if you try to buy on your own". A two-bedroom village property in Liguria costs around pounds 38,000 and a large period apartment on Lake Como, from around pounds 85,000.

Things are more straightforward and much cheaper, if you buy your retreat in Florida. Here charges will be not much more than 4 per cent, which includes title insurance. There is a 1 per cent annual property tax and community charges depend on the type of development.

The International Property Show is on today and tomorrow at The Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch, London, W1, 10.30am - 5pm, admission free.

Ultra Villas, 01242 221500; Bennetts, 01625 586937; Florida Homes International, 01703 262888; Casa Travella, 01322 660988.